A memoir piece on my struggle with denial, this piece was originally 20 pages and has been reduced to 6. Names and specific details of this story have been changed to protect the loved (Ellie and myself of course) and I’m referring to something specific in the form of it. I’ve attempted to make it ambiguous without having to remove too much. Enjoy.
Ellie swayed and wobbled on the sidewalk as we walked through Main Street. “Where we goinnn’?”
I locked my arm around hers. “Back to my car, we parked at your cousin’s house, remember?”
It was two in the afternoon and Ellie was already hammered. She lived only 20 minutes away from Huntington Beach and invited me a few hours earlier to suntan and hit the water. But, we never made it to the water. I was starting to feel nervous and vulnerable amongst the mass of people and police vehicles on the streets beyond the beach. The sweltering heat made it worse. It was over 90°, my damp hair matted against my cheeks and my white tank top glued to my stomach. Ellie glistened in her daisy-duke shorts and white bikini top, a look which accentuated her voluptuous figure and attracted whistles and hollers, we didn’t need. The sun receded behind the clouds and a light breeze washed over us from the cool beach water, a temporary comfort.
Huntington Beach was miles behind us, families and friends looked like dark freckles from where we stood. It was overcrowded with beachgoers taking advantage of President’s Day by drinking in the sun on brightly colored blankets and dipping through rolling waves. The streets we walked through weren’t any better. Main Street, a small outdoor mall with several Irish bars and retail stores swarmed with dripping locals in short, skimpy clothing. Sticky teenagers walked to and from the beach carrying towels and boogie boards. Adults, young and old, crowded the bars, booming with reggaetón up and down both 5th and Main street. The rest were walking their show-winning poodles and Yorkshire terriers, carrying multiple yellow and pink shopping bags. Because of the congestion and holiday, police SUV’s were parked at every single street corner.
Ellie and I arrived to the stop sign between Main and Walnut when she broke free from my grip and ran up to a young couple embracing on the corner of the pedestrian walkway. Ellie faced them and pointed to the streetlamp behind her.
Facing these strangers and pointing at me, she yelled, “Where’s her car!”
The couple looked back at me, their mouths agape.
I grabbed her arm again. “She’s drunk. Do you know where third Street is?” They shook their heads and continued to gawk at Ellie.
I scanned the streets for anything familiar and observed a police SUV parallel parked between two cars in the neighborhood further above Main Street. I tightened my arm around Ellie’s hip, squeezing her close to mine, and made a swift right on Walnut Street. Ellie’s legs reminded me of spaghetti noodles, flopping and veering, and unable to stand firmly on their own. She was heavier than I expected. She was my height at 5’6 with a thick, hourglass figure. Walking with her weight against mine was like trudging belly-deep through the ocean. At this point, I could not let go of her. Not until we found my car. Her mindset, her inhibitions, were disintegrating by the minute. It was like watching a rapid onset of dementia. She was no longer functional.
I considered calling her mom but then I would have to explain everything. I would have to explain how I never believed Ellie was an alcoholic. I assumed, as Ellie told me, she was a young twenty-four year-old woman who liked to have fun and her mother was simply frigid and uptight. I would have to explain how I used the gas money, her mother graciously gave us, to buy mini bottles of vodka for Ellie and I on the way to the beach. I would be forced to tell her how Ellie had wildly ran across the packed street, like a headless chicken, towards the CVS, claiming she was desperate for sunscreen. Then, I would have to explain how Ellie never needed sunscreen. She’d ran to the CVS and attempted to steal a security-sealed bottle of Popov vodka from CVS, forcing me to purchase the bottle myself.
I should have known Ellie was already drunk from the mini-bottles when she stuffed the enormous security-sealed plastic bottle inside of her bikini bottom. It was crammed underneath her jean shorts where it visibly stuck out. She believed we wouldn’t be caught despite security posted at the front door and a cop car parked right outside the CVS. Ellie refused my money and insisted we could get the bottle for free because nobody would question a clear, plastic bottle sticking out from underneath her panties. And, should they ask, she would simply tell them it was personal. I would have to explain to her mother, how I still did not believe she was drunk, let alone a severe alcoholic, at this point.
Ellie promised we would swim after a few swigs of the Popov vodka. We entered the bathrooms in each bar on Main Street and passed the bottle of vodka underneath the stalls. Straight, cheap vodka was sickening and reminded me of rubbing alcohol. Disgusted, I drank less than she did. While I plugged my nose and choked down half-shots of vodka, she inhaled ounces of it. I was shocked to find the majority of the contents gone by the third bathroom visit in Killarney’s Irish Pub. There was only a cupful left and she appeared surprised when I showed her. It wasn’t until she poured the remaining vodka into a stranger’s warm leftover beer and chugged it that I knew she was wasted. I immediately escorted her out of the pub just as a group of college girls recorded her antics.
Ellie’s head swung side to side. Her mouth hung open as drool dribbled down her chin and onto my sandals. “Wh-where weee goin’?” She asked again.
“Back to my car at your cousin’s house. Can you call them and get the address?” I asked.
“I duuun’t have a fuckin’ cousin t-t-thaaaat lives h-heere,” She slurred.
Ellie and I met through a mutual friend in Pasadena, two months prior where we immediately became close friends. We were both twenty-three years old and spent every minute together. We watched goodhearted movies like The Breakfast Club, Juno, Silver Linings Playbook. We swapped books and memoirs written by authors we felt understood us like Elizabeth Wurtzel, Ellen Hopkins, Sherman Alexie. We gossiped in hushed voices masked by the music of Two-Door Cinema Club and Mumford and Sons. We cracked jokes about only dating straight-edge people who didn’t drink or use so we would never have to share. Every single day we consistently reminisced the good times we had when we used and drank. Neither of us ever talked about the bad times. Neither of us discussed the consequences of our activities.
Although she admitted she had one DUI and numerous blackouts, Ellie claimed she was not an alcoholic. She repeatedly stated they were small mistakes which her mother took too seriously. And I believed her. I understood small mistakes. In fact, I had plenty of my own.
I understood what it could provide. It seeped through the icy-blue dome locked over my mind and enchanted me with its’ own spell. For the first time, I felt genuinely happy. Unbelievable ecstasy and bliss consumed me. It was my prince charming, it was my savior. I was emotionally dependent and expected it fix what was broken inside me.
So, when I met Ellie, I felt we were truly kindred spirits. We understood each other. She was a nursing student forced to drop out after her car accidents. She worked as a medical assistant to a plastic surgeon in Long Beach. She occasionally modeled for retail brands such as Roxy and PacSun. She was functional, ambitious, and charming. She merely had a few slipups while partying too hard, just as I had. We were young and we expected to have fun. Why couldn’t anyone understand that?
On our way down the yellow brick road, in search of my car which clearly had some sort of invisibility cloak thrust upon it, Ellie collapsed. In a drunken stupor, she attempted to break into a car before keeling over.
Ellie’s purse dropped to the ground next to her and set off a chime of clinking glass bottles. The head of the empty vodka bottle peered out from her partially-opened purse amongst mini-bottles of Smirnoff vodka, and over ten plastic bottles of prescription pills. It seemed she carried a portable bar and pharmacy from the depths of her purse. It was Narnia for addicts and alcoholics.
I lifted the purse with my right hand and tightened my left hand around her wrist. I removed the empty liquor bottles and flung them one-by-one into the side yard of the one-story house behind us. I counted 13 empty bottles, 7 additional bottles I hadn’t seen.
There were so many questions I wanted to ask Ellie but couldn’t. My biggest question was, How early did you start drinking today?
*** [Details Removed]]***
In order to avoid arrest by the Huntington Beach Police, I was forced to call Ellie’s mother and ask that she come and pick us both up. The police, along with a kindhearted good Samaritan, kept both of us company. Due to Ellie’s growing violence and insistence on fighting the incredibly patient police officers, I had to place her on the ground and sit on top of her back to keep her down. Facedown on the ground, Ellie dribbled and twerked and sang herself to sleep until her mother arrived to pick us up. The good samaritan and I had to lift her body off the ground and fling her in her mother’s backseat. It was on this ride that I learned things about Ellie I hadn’t been privy to before.
“Ellie has two DUI’s,” Her mother informed me. “She was court-ordered into treatment and she’s been kicked out of several institutions because she kept bringing alcohol into the facilities. She’s had three car accidents, two of the cars didn’t even belong to her, and if she was arrested this time, she would’ve gone away for a long time.”
Her mother started to weep uncontrollably, unsure of what to do with the daughter who didn’t believe she had an issue. The daughter who told everyone she simply enjoyed the taste of a cool beer and nothing more.
“God, we were in so much denial at the beginning. It took a DUI for us to finally accept what was happening. You don’t want to look at your daughter in that light. You don’t want to admit it to yourself or others that your daughter is an alcoholic. The unfortunate thing is she didn’t want to accept it either. She’s never wanted to accept it. She lies to everyone. She’s in denial, plain and simple.”
I said nothing and prayed we found my car soon before her mother started asking me questions.
We found my car a few minutes later in another block across town. I couldn’t believe how far we parked from the beach and how dangerous it could’ve been if I continued dragging Ellie’s limp body towards it.
I sat inside my car and I thought about everything Ellie and I had ever done together. The things we talked about and the things we didn’t. We never talked about the real reasons we were where we were. The real reasons we met.
Ellie never said she was a passionate drunk and I never said I was a creative thief. We were constantly swinging fists, unable to control where we landed. Unable to admit, we had issues. We never talked about her home where her parents forced her to select alliances on a daily basis, threatening to give and take their love, before and during their divorce. We never talked about my home, where emotions were equivalent to weakness and psychological warfare was regularly instigated by temperamental parents. We never talked about the real reason we preferred to date the strong and the healthy, because there wouldn’t be enough room, enough love, for two dysfunctional individuals in need of something more to close the void.
We never talked about our sleepless nights, when I could hear her talk in her sleep. I never told her I could hear her pleas, her screams, the nightmares of her childhood trauma soaring back. I never told her how I laid in the bed beside her, staring up at the ceiling for hours, drowning in my own past, shivering and sweating from the withdrawals I denied I felt. Every night she screamed and every night I willed the ceiling to crash down on me and finally take me away. We never said these things out loud.
Instead, we would smile, we would laugh. We would tell each other we didn’t belong here because we weren’t like the other girls. We were sensitive. We were special. And most importantly, we had no issues.